The very dirty tiger

Ellipsoptera cuprascens (Coppery Tiger Beetle) | Mississippi Co., Missouri

In my post Very wary tigers!, I lamented my inability to photograph one of our state’s less commonly encountered tiger beetles, Ellipsoptera cuprascens (Coppery Tiger Beetle), on an open Mississippi River beach under a blazing sun. There are solutions to such problems, however, one of which is the use of blacklights to attract the beetles at night when cooler temperatures and readily available prey make the beetles much more approachable. Of course, this only works for those certain species that are attracted to blacklights, of which fortunately E. cuprascens is one, and not long afterwards I was able to photograph individuals of this species that came to a blacklight placed further south along the Mississippi River in New Madrid Co., Missouri. The photos were adequate, but none were what I would consider a true winner, so when I found the species again while blacklighting at another Mississippi River beach in southeast Missouri I continued with my attempts to photograph them.

Heavy lime coating the antennae must feel to this fellow like like breathing in concrete does to us!

The species was much less abundant this time, and none of the few individuals that showed up at the light actually spent any time on the ground where I could take reasonably natural looking photographs. This time I decided to look for them along the beach away from the light and succeeded in finding a few. As is typical, the first several that I tried to photograph were too wary to approach, but I’ve learned to keep trying until I find that one (slightly) more cooperative individual. As I crossed over the concrete boat ramp I saw one that seemed not at all flighty. I’ve seen the ubiquitous Cicindela repanda commonly on concrete boat ramps, so I checked carefully to be sure it wasn’t that species, and after confirming its E. cuprascens identity I began the slow, cautious approach that ended with me flat on my belly and the camera lens inches from the beetle. Nighttime photography is tricky because… uhm… it’s dark, and I don’t find my flash unit’s focusing lamps all that helpful (they tend to time out right before I’ve composed the shot to my satisfaction). Instead, I place my headlamp on the ground and position it so that it continuously illuminates the subject so I can concentrate on getting multiple shots without having to constantly divert my attention to the focusing lamp button. The concrete was hard, and my elbows were mad at me for a time afterwards, but the beetle was generously cooperative and took on some very nice poses during the session, leaving me with the impression that I’d gotten that “perfect” shot as I walked back to the blacklight.

The obligatory face-shot—especially stark in its white lime surroundings!

Sadly, these photos are far from perfect. Their composition is good, as is their focus and lighting and the natural-looking poses that I captured. But the beetle is absolutely filthy! I didn’t realize it at the time, but apparently its wanderings across the decaying lower reaches of the concrete boat ramp resulted in a thick coating of lime on just about every part of its body. Now, few tiger beetles that I photograph are perfectly clean and spotless, and although a few grains of sand around the mouth or on the legs are tolerable, I am not above cloning out debris that detracts from the beauty of the beetle—especially when it is on the eyes or its shiny, glabrous dorsal surface. This beetle, however, is simply beyond repair. I’m by no means a Photoshop expert, but I’m not sure even the most fluent PS whiz could fix this beetle. So, my quest for the “perfect” E. cuprascens photo will continue…

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

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About Ted C. MacRae

Ted C. MacRae is a research entomologist by vocation and beetle taxonomist by avocation. Areas of expertise in the latter include worldwide jewel beetles (Buprestidae) and North American longhorned beetles (Cerambycidae). More recent work has focused on North American tiger beetles (Cicindelidae) and their distribution, ecology, and conservation.
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10 Responses to The very dirty tiger

  1. Gordon Ramel says:

    It can be funny how you don’t notice these things, I remember photographing a large earwig in Greece only to notice afterwards that it was covered in minute pieces of sawdust that completely ruined the photo. The dirt here is not as bad as you say, the first photo is lovely.

  2. sm1817 says:

    Wonderful description of the 6 legged beauty..I have a passion for insects as well..wrote something about a ladybug..http://bohemianintrovert.wordpress.com/2012/09/07/the-final-march/ hope you would like it :)

  3. Pingback: More cool tiger beetle pics from Beetles in the Bush! | Conservation of Biodiversity

  4. Not going to lie, I wasn’t sure what this post was going to be about with that title (I blame the 50 Shades of Grey media storm for this), but I’m glad I clicked it! I agree with Gordon, the first photo is great, and really demonstrates why this species is called the Coppery Tiger Beetle — it looks like it’s been plated!

    • I’d like the first photo better if I hadn’t clipped the feet and antennal tips. I try to pay attention to this in the field but am often unable to resist the siren call of getting closer and closer.

  5. macromite says:

    I suppose that is one advantage of a point-and-shoot: it has to be a pretty big insect before I worry about clipping.

    MOM (Material Other than Mite)* is one of the bitter disappointments of SEM. Except when reared in culture, soil mites invariably come covered in bits of their habitat (soil, bacteria, fungal spores) and tend to pick up more on the way (scales from entomobryoid springtails in extractions being especially annoying, dust in the lab). Sonicating in a surfactant can help (although it can also shatter the mite), but involves extra processing and runs the risk of loss, breaking off of setae, etc. Fortunately, most mites can be collected in numbers and 40 or more can fit on a stub, so one usually finds an acceptable one and airbrushing in Photoshop can usually double that number.

    *I stole this from the wine industry in California: MOG (Material Other than Grape) which can be anything from black widows to rattlesnakes that end up in the fermentor. Supposedly the average MOG is neutral to interesting in terms of the final product, but Lady Beetles when abundant give wine a ‘lady beetle taint’ and are especially loathed by vintners.

    • I can’t wait to use MOTB (Material Other than Tiger Beetles) in a sentence!

      It would be nice being able to rip off 40 shots of a tiger beetle. If they’re feeling really cooperative I might get close to a dozen, but usually it’s more like 4–6… or one!

      Lady-beetle tainted wine sounds awful!

  6. biobabbler says:

    So, really random question here, but in the NYT there is a bug beauty contest (species from Mozambique), and tho’ I found a lovely katydid to vote for (I think it was a katydid?), the question immediately popped into mind as I viewed the candidates:

    Don’t they have any tiger beetles?

    Seriously, tbs can be SO beautiful, and YOU may be the man to tell me. So, do they?

    • Sure, Mozambique (and all of sub-Saharan Africa) has a great diversity of tiger beetles, including the largest tiger beetles in the world (genus Mantichora—search BitB on that keyword for some photos I have of one species). The generic diversity in Africa is also quite high, ranging from desert dwelling monsters to skinny little arboreal species. If you’ve got lots of money, there is a two-volume work on the tiger beetles of Africa that have got to be some of the most expensive entomology books ever printed!

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